- By Kevin Lyttle American-Statesman Staff
Precourt Sports Ventures announced Thursday that city-owned McKalla Place is now the focus of its stadium search, and Austin officials plan to work with the Major League Soccer owner to examine the site.
“We’re impressed with the potential of McKalla Place and believe we could create a privately funded, world-class soccer stadium there,” Precourt said in a statement. “We’re looking forward to working together with the city as we continue to assess the viability of this site.”
Council Member Kathie Tovo is expected to author a resolution Friday for the March 22 meeting to have city staff work with Precourt to explore the location. Mayor Steve Adler and Council members Leslie Pool, Ann Kitchen and Sabino “Pio” Renteria are expected to co-sponsor.
“Having Major League Soccer could bring all the different communities in Austin together in ways that overcomes old divides,” Adler told the American-Statesman. “Let’s focus on the McKalla location to see if it works.
“It’s an under-utilized city-owned tract in an industrial area that can be made easily accessible to public transportation. It’s near the Domain, where we’ve planned for future density, and is shaping up as an exciting place.”
McKalla Place represents a path of least resistance among city-recommended sites because it’s not on parkland and the city has struggled to figure out a use for it. The 24-acre tract, bordering Braker Lane and Burnet Road, carries a history of “significant environmental issues,” in the words of city staff.
Yet even the former chemical dump site is no slam dunk for the city to turn over to a corporate entity in exchange for a $200 million stadium and Austin’s first major league franchise.
“I’ve been pushing for private land, but public land keeps the city in the conversation,” said Pool, whose District 7 includes McKalla Place. “I’d rather see practice fields at McKalla and the stadium somewhere else.
“I’m open to it. I’m agreeable to participating in the analysis. I just don’t want to be taken to the bank.”
Precourt’s pitch to vet McKalla Place is a decided turn from the group’s early fixation on the near downtown Butler Shores Metropolitan Park and then its interest in Southeast Austin’s Roy G. Guerrero Colorado River Park. Opposition to those locations mounted from neighborhood groups, activists and some Council members.
“We continue to believe Major League Soccer can integrate into the heart and soul of the Austin community,” Precourt said in his statement. “We’ve heard the concerns about a possible site for a stadium. Soccer is inclusive and celebratory, so we want to shift the focus onto the long-term benefits of a location that works for everybody.”
Precourt also alluded to the positive impact his team could bring to Austin. He was assailed by critics in a statement last week for referencing a possible $400 million benefits package over a 25-year period without spelling it out or saying how his group arrived at the numbers.
“One of the most exciting things we’ll do is to share with the community a detailed list of benefits Major League Soccer could bring to Austin, especially to young people,” he said in Thursday’s statement.
While McKalla Place isn’t downtown where MLS prefers its stadiums, PSV President Dave Greeley has told the Statesman “the Domain is like a second downtown. It attracts the young millennials and has the demographics we covet.”
The city has spent nearly $5 million on cleanups of dangerous chemicals on the grounds and provided documentation to the Statesman that the property has been remediated.
Capital Metro has a rail stop nearby and there are ample roads in the vicinity, but McKalla lacks sidewalks and immediate access. Pool has said Precourt should improve the infrastracture.
“Every dollar and penny in community benefit needs to come back to the community,” Pool said. “Let’s have staff do the analysis. If it turns out to be a great idea, I’ll be all for it.”
Staff writer Elizabeth Findell contributed to this story.